To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Part 7: Post 6: A Mystery Revealed

I saw a fox this morning, in the snow. Yes, it snowed last night, and was still snowing this morning. It wasn’t that cold, and when I walked around to zazen this morning in the dark the ground only felt wet, but there was an odd silence in the air and I could feel something soft and cold brush against my face. I stood there for a moment, feeling it snow in the dark, before hurrying in to meditate.

By the time meditation was over the sun was up and the snow had begun to stick. I think two flakes melted for every one that stayed, but it was coming down thick and maybe an inch had built up and everything looked pretty. I knew it wouldn’t last, and I had an hour before breakfast, so I decided to go for a walk. I had just come down the stares from the meditation hall, watching my feet so I wouldn’t slip, when I looked up and there was the fox, standing all red and small and fluffy by the edge of the evergreen line. I looked at the fox and the fox looked at me, and the moment seemed to last a long time, though I suppose it didn’t, and then the fox barked at me, a short cough-like sound not at all like a dog’s bark, and it ran away.

I stood there for a while, not doing much of anything, just thinking, and getting cold. I don’t normally think of foxes as winter animals, as the others I’ve seen have all been in the summer, but they don’t den up or migrate so of course there are foxes in the snow. It occurred to me that since I’m supposed to be learning tracking this winter I should probably find the fox’s tracks and follow them—maybe backwards, so I wouldn’t run into and frighten the fox.

The thing was, though, that I would probably get distracted doing that sort of thing and miss
Pineapple-Weed and the Toe of a Shoe for Size
breakfast. And, aside from there being a rule against it, I don’t want to miss breakfast because one of the Ravens has family in New York, and they brought up a huge bag of fresh bagels when they came to visit this weekend. We’ve broken out some of the jelly now, and this week we’ve opened the pineapple-weed. Pineapple-weed is a smaller version of chamomile, and it tastes about the same in tea. It’s not native, but it grows all through the sandy, gravel roads on campus. So, back in the summer Charlie’s team went around and harvested most of it and the Dining Hall people made jelly out of it, just a dozen jars or so. It’s sweetened with honey and tastes like sunshine.

I realized I didn’t have my watch on—should I go back and get it? I’d lose a lot of time that way, but I might miss breakfast—or come back unnecessarily early—if I didn’t. I looked back up at the Mansion, thinking, and spotted Charlie.

He was standing, facing a closed door, one right next to the door to the Mansion kitchen. He was fumbling with something in his hands, maybe a group of keys. I hadn’t seen him in weeks.

“Hey, Charlie!” I walked part of the way towards him and he looked up in surprise.

“Oh, hi, Daniel!”

“I guess you’re going to have to wear shoes, now,” I said, pointing at the snowing sky. He looked up at the snow for a moment, considering.

“It’ll melt soon,” he concluded. "Actually, I walk barefoot in the snow at least once a year. I'm always hoping someone will find the prints." He grinned, impishly, for a moment, but something about him seemed awkward, like he was waiting for me to go away or something.

“I didn’t think that door went anywhere,” I told him, finally. He looked at me indecisively for a moment, as though debating with himself whether to tell me something. Evidently his urge to be mysterious and wise won out over what looked like it might be his better judgment.

All doors lead somewhere if you have the key,” he said, holding up the key ring in his hand. I looked at the door. The woodshed--it's more like a walk-in wood-closet--is sort of L-shaped, and one of the arms ends about where that door should be. And there is, indeed, a door there on the inside, but it's blocked by a shelf, and at this time of year there's stacked wood on the shelf and in front of it, six feet thick. There is no way anyone could get in from the outside even with a key. But what else could Charlie have been about to do, standing there at the door with his keys? I looked up, four flights up, to the western corner of the masters’ floor, where I knew a secondary stairwell opened up. I’d never known where the bottom of that stairwell was. All of a sudden I understood why we sometimes hear voices in the walls in the Mansion and why we never see the masters on the stairs, going into or out of their home.

Charlie saw me make the connection and rolled his eyes in something like embarrassment at his indiscretion. But really, what else was I supposed to think he was doing, once I turned around and saw him there? He must have assumed we'd all be busy showering or something before breakfast, and, anyway, we don't usually use that door. Usually we come and go by the Green Room or the Office.

“Just don’t tell the others, ok?” He told me. Then he nodded to me in a friendly way and unlocked his door and went in through it.

And I forgot to ask him if he knew the time.                                                

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